Suspended talks on cybersecurity, frequent exchanges of allegations over approaches to disputes and regional security...the recent divergences between Beijing and Washington run so deep and broad that mutual suspicions about purposes and intentions dominate any discussion about their uneasy relationship. Hence, the atmosphere seems less than conducive for the sixth China-US Strategic and Economic Dialogue.
The new type of major-country relationship, once a favored catchphrase of well-wishers, is no longer what it was immediately after the meeting between the Chinese and US presidents last summer.
Washington's intention of containing China is obvious; and throughout the world, Americans are spreading the notion that an increasingly assertive China endangers the Asia-Pacific. Which boils down to distrust of each other and doubts that a rising power can truly co-exist with an incumbent power.
Yet, despite all the troubles and obstacles and their mutual suspicions, China and the United States have managed to make the dialogue happen, and they have managed to keep their problematic ties from sliding into outright confrontation. These are encouraging signs that they share an interest in maneuvering toward something brighter. For both countries, nothing is more important than a common conviction that confrontation is not a matter of destiny.
The pragmatism demonstrated thus far by the dialogue participants suggests the relationship is mature enough to withstand the downs and make the most of the ups. Which is why the nascent dialogue mechanism has been successful in addressing issues of technical significance in spite of the sometimes less-than-optimistic scenarios.
As always, there is a long list of concerns to discuss, ranging from food safety, human rights, and a crackdown on wildlife trafficking, to climate change and clean energy, as well as security issues involving Ukraine, Afghanistan, Iran and the Korean Peninsula, and, of course, the maritime disputes in the region.
So, there may or may not be specific outcomes on all topics. But one thing is sure, any achievements will not be sustainable unless both parties adhere to a constructive approach to overcoming their differences.
So more important than making headway on specific issues, the dialogue should strive to create an atmosphere conducive to the elimination of mutual misunderstandings. It would thus be of tremendous mutual benefit should the decision-makers of both countries take advantage of this opportunity to deliver their explanations.
That is the only way to arrest the downward spiral in bilateral relations.